Landslide Victory: Definition in Elections

Ronald Reagan Campaigns in 1984

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A landslide victory in politics is an election in which the victor wins by an overwhelming margin. The term became popular in the 1800s to define a "resounding victory; one in which the opposition is buried" in an election, according to the late New York Times political writer William Safire in his Safire's Political Dictionary.

While many elections are declared landslide victories, they are trickier to quantify. How big is a "resounding victory?" Is there a certain margin of victory that qualifies as a landslide election? How many electoral votes do you have to win to achieve a landslide? It turns out there is no consensus on the specifics of a landslide definition, but there is general agreement among political observers about historic presidential elections that qualify as such.


There is no legal or constitutional definition of what a landslide election is, or how wide an electoral victory margin must be in order for a candidate to have won in a landslide. But many modern-day political commentators and media pundits use the term landslide election freely to describe campaigns in which the victor was a clear favorite during the campaign and goes on to win with relative ease.

"It usually means exceeding expectations and being somewhat overwhelming," Gerald Hill, a political scientist and co-author of "The Facts on File Dictionary of American Politics," told The Associated Press.

One way to measure a landslide victory is by percentage points. Historically, many outlets have used the phrase "landslide" for victories in which a candidate beats their opponents by at least 15 percentage points in a popular vote count.  Under that scenario, a landslide would occur when the winning candidate in a two-way election receives 58% of the vote, leaving his opponent with 42%.

There are variations of the 15-point landslide definition. Political news website Politico has defined a landslide election as being one in which the winning candidate beats their opponent by at least 10 percentage points, for example. And well-known political blogger Nate Silver of The New York Times has defined a landslide district as being one in which a presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result. Political scientists Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen Thompson Hill say in their book "The Facts on File Dictionary of American Politics" that a landslide occurs when a candidate is able to win 60% of the popular vote.

Electoral College

The United States does not elect its presidents by popular vote. It instead uses the Electoral College system. There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs in a presidential race, so how many would a candidate have to win to achieve a landslide?

Again, there is no legal or constitutional definition of a landslide in a presidential election. But political journalists have offered their own suggested guidelines for determining a landslide victory over the years. Historically, news outlets have used the phrase "Electoral College landslide" when the winning candidate secures at least 375, or 70%, of the electoral votes. 


There are at least a half a dozen presidential elections that many would consider being landslides. Among them is Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1936 win over Alf Landon. Roosevelt won 523 electoral votes to Landon's eight, and 61% of the popular vote to his opponent's 37%. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won 525 electoral votes to Walter Mondale's 13, capturing 59% of the popular vote.

Neither of President Barack Obama's victories, in 2008 or 2012, is considered to be a landslide; nor is President Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump won the electoral vote but received nearly 3 million fewer actual votes than Clinton did, reigniting the debate over whether the U.S. should scrap the Electoral College. Joe Biden's victory in 2020, with a margin of 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232 and approximately 7 million more actual votes, also does not meet the definition of a landslide.

View Article Sources
  1. "1936: FDR's Second Presidential Campaign - The New Deal." Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

  2. Raines, Howell. "Reagan Wins By a Landslide, Sweeping at Least 48 States; G.O.P. Gains Strength in House." The New York Times, 7 Nov. 1984.

  3. Kuhn, David P. "Polls Show Landslide Scenario Unlikely." Politico, 13 Aug. 2008.

  4. Silver, Nate. "As Swing Districts Dwindle, Can a Divided House Stand?" The New York Times FiveThirtyEight, 27 Dec. 2012.

  5. Sabato, Larry J. "How Goldwater Changed Campaigns Forever." Politico, 27 Oct. 2014.

  6. Balz, Dan. "Clinton Wins by Wide Margin." The Washington Post, 6 Nov. 1996.

  7. "Federal Elections 2016: Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives." Federal Election Commission, 2017.

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Murse, Tom. "Landslide Victory: Definition in Elections." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, February 16). Landslide Victory: Definition in Elections. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Landslide Victory: Definition in Elections." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).